I am truly amazed by how afraid some inventors are. They fear that someone is going to steal their million-dollar idea. They assume that every company is eagerly lying in wait, ready to rip them off.
This ugly point of view rears its head everywhere I look, from conversations on LinkedIn groups to YouTube comments. These entrepreneurs are quick to declare that companies will steal your idea. Why would they pay us for our ideas, they ask.
This thinking is not only annoying and counterproductive, but also simply untrue. I have been licensing my ideas for over 30 years. I’ve submitted hundreds of my ideas to companies without any trouble. For the past 13 years, I’ve been teaching inventors how to license their own ideas. Not one of my students has ever had their idea stolen.
Knowing how the game is played is a lot more beneficial than trembling with unfounded anxiety. Being concerned and careful is smart. After all, it’s perfectly legal for a company to try to work around your idea. You must account for that!
Many companies have embraced open innovation. These companies are actively seeking out product ideas from inventors. The reason why is simple. At the same time that a company is able to lower its internal R&D costs, it magnifies its chances of finding its next great idea. Reviewing inventors’ ideas costs next to nothing.
Do you know what does cost companies, though? Ripping off an inventor. The bottom line is that it’s not in a company’s best interest to steal ideas. For one, what company wants that kind of negative press? There’s also the potential of a lawsuit. Finally, stealing an inventor’s idea effectively closes the door on open innovation.
However, let me be clear. It’s our job to protect our ideas effectively with intellectual property. I’m not naïve. There are companies out there that will definitely try to work around your idea if you give them an opportunity to. These companies haven’t truly embraced open innovation, which is their loss. You can protect yourself from these kinds of companies by filing intellectual property that stops workarounds.
Stop giving in to your fear and follow the steps below to protect yourself instead.
1. Do a thorough prior art search. You can hire an outside firm to do this, but you should also search for prior art yourself, because it’s you who must become an expert. Familiarize yourself with all of the relevant intellectual property that has come before you. Find your innovation’s uniqueness.
2. Learn about manufacturing processes. There are many ways of doing this, including watching YouTube videos and visiting manufacturing facilities. How will your product be made? What are all of the ways it can be made? You need to know. Designing a product that cannot be manufactured is a grave mistake. You may need to hire an engineer to work with you. Make sure to have anyone you discuss your invention with sign a non-disclosure agreement and a work-for-hire agreement.
3. Study up. Read your industry’s trade magazines. What new materials are being used? Where is the industry headed? Consider attending a tradeshow and/or a seminar. You need to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening.
4. Be selective about what companies you choose to work with. Is the company inventor-friendly? Has it licensed an idea before? Are there any lawsuits or complaints that come up when you Google the company? Do your homework.
5. Maintain a paper trail. Put everything in writing.
6. Don’t give anyone a reason to try to work around you. If you ask for too much up front, the company will be less inclined to work with you. Be reasonable.
7. Think ahead. When I write my own provisional patent applications, I try to steal my idea from myself. I think, if a company were to steal this from me, how would it? I think about manufacturing processes and materials.
Don’t let fear control your actions. Take responsibility. We’re entrepreneurs, after all. Risk is inherent.